_So, okay, I'm a cartoonist AND a beek. Naturally I had to decorate my hives, appropriate for Russian Bees. Here's Boris, from the "Rocky & Bullwinkle Show".
_I'd never drawn him before. I warmed up with a couple of sketches, then went for it
_It was a lot of work, but I managed to somehow enjoy it
_Okay, painting on a hive box is a LOT different than drawing on paper with ink. Steady ... steady ... steady ...
_Not bad, not bad.
_Since I'm splitting my hive in a month to make two, I went ahead, built out the hive deep boxes and two medium supers, painted them all yellow, and then finalized the deal with Natasha's likeness on one of the deeps. She was SO much fun to draw.
_Now came the hard part. It was time for another inspection. Somehow I had to switch out the top brood box on hive Boris with my newly decorated Boris box. I was nervous! One thing I did well without realizing it is holding my hive tool in my hand while holding the frames. I didn't realize I had figured out this little beekeeping trick until I saw this photo. A great sign on the top box, another newly drawn frame with a tight brood pattern
_I'd stopped feeding them for two weeks, suspecting robbing was going on. I later realized it was not robbing, but orientation flights of new bees I was witnessing. To verify, I made several visits during one such event. There were no balls of bees fighting to the death, no alarm phermone smell (bananas), and in three visits in shorts and flip flops I got no stings. So that was good. Now, back to the inspection.
I'm smiling in this photo, but really I was disappointed to see that they'd done very little work on this frame
_I expected this frame to have been drawn out in the two weeks since I'd last inspected, but it was only drawn fully on one side and about a third of the other side had been drawn. Hmmmmm. I will have to start feeding them again.
_There were several more undrawn frames I'd hoped would be drawn out and ready to harvest for Hive Natasha.So far, out of the 18 frames in the two hive boxes, they'd drawn out 13.5 frames. A GREAT sign I'll be able to split. But only one honey frame was found on this visit that I could remove.
I inspected and placed all of the top box frames into a working box. The queen was not spotted up top, though I did see a few tight brood frames, so she'd been busy up there within the last nine days. Onto the bottom box. The end frames were undrawn, but the frames next to them that used to be undrawn were mostly filled out. There were LOTS of bees. My hive has more than doubled in size, another great sign.
_This freshly drawn frame had some brood and a lot of capped honey cells. But there was a knob of capped brood in the center of the frame that was troublesome. I still worry about it.
_Here's a closer view. Were these emergency supercedure cells? If drone cells all were on the bottom of the frames, then it doesn't make sense these in the middle were drone cells, but rather supercedure cells. Still, they weren't all that big, AND they weren't pointing down, but rather up and at weird diagonals. Was Boris now queenless and they were trying to create a replacement queen? My alarm quickly grew, as did my panic. On my next inspection if there are more of these and I'm seeing two or three eggs had been laid per cell then I'll know for sure that Hive Boris has gone queenless. I sure hope that's not the case.
_Holy crap, this had a lot of bees and brood. No queen was spotted in the bottom box, either. But I did see more brood than I ever had in both the top and bottom boxes. This frame used to be spotty, but now had a tight capped brood pattern. I also noticed that for the first time there were capped drone cells in the hive. These were mostly along the bottom of the frames in the bottom box only, except for that one weird frame where there were large capped cells at frame's center. Unfortunately, I also just spotted a queen cup on this frame, in the upper right quadrant of the frame. They're preparing to either replace their queen or they're frantically trying to create a replacement due to an unfortunate accident (such as an ignorant beek killing her without realizing it ... I swear I put her frame back in gently as soon as I saw her last time, honest!). Or, maybe they're just practicing, keeping up their chops on how to build queen cells?
_See? Lots of bees, I'm not lying. I'm still holding my hive tool without realizing it.
_Again no queen, but lots of brood cells and more drone cells. My alarm was raising, and the bees were getting louder.
_This was what I came to get this inspection, a honey frame. I wanted to remove them from the hive and make Boris redraw out fresh foundation into comb so that when I split the hive, the new weaker colony will have a jump start with frames of drawn comb I'd set aside for them. This honey frame (not true honey, but capped simple syrup I'd been feeding the bees) weighed a lot and was quite beautiful. I put the frame in the freezer for at least 48 hours (I left it in there a week until Yvonne reminded me to get it out of her freezer, PRONTO!). I'd hoped for four such frames, but only one was ready, located as a next-to-end frame on the East side of the hive.
_It was time to harvest the honey frame. I used a bee brush as quickly and gently as I could to brush the bees into the bottom box. I quickly discovered that the bees did NOT like this in the least. Oh, crap, they're flying everywhere!! And I'm not wearing gloves. And I'm sweating. And ... and ... BAM! I got stung. Finally, my first sting of the year. Silly me figured that reflexively shaking my hand around would be a good idea while handling bees. WRONG!!! Yes, it is way easier to handle the bees gloveless. But you're still going to accidentally kill some here and there (sorry, girls), and if you're not protected and are nervous, you'll get popped.
_I quickly reached for my gloves. Here's a shot of what I put on my hands after resmoking them.TA-DAAAAA, holes chewed into one of the thumbs, some of the fingers and along the palm thanks to a handy mouse in my storage room off the carport. Instead of putting my beekeeping gloves away in a chest of drawers I have out there, I left them on the shelf. Apparently mice think goatskin is akin to caviar.
_As soon as I got the gloves on a bee entered my thumb hole and I thought my eyes were going to bug outta my head. "I'm in trouble!" I shouted to Yvonne. Ever the yoga teacher, she made me recompose as I quickly took the gloves back off. Fortunately I didn't get stung a second time, but I deserved it. Yvonne said, "Relax." And that was all. I took some deep breaths, applied a lot of smoke to thousands of angry bees flying all around me, and went back to work.
Even though I don't use chemicals in the hive, I will use every natural method of helping the bees keep Varroa and tracheal mites in check. My friend Hernan reminded me that summertime was time for sugar dusting. I saw a suggestion in "Bee Culture" ( I love that magazine ) to dust using a flour sifter. It worked like a charm. I used a family heirloom, my Aunt Anne's flour sifter. It was super fast and effective. I did this on both boxes as my hand kept reminding me how stupid I'd acted while in the hive this visit. Oh, well, at least I found out the hard way that I was not allergic to honeybees! I must admit I felt some sense of "so THERE, you stingy bees!!!" while coating them in powdered sugar. "Take THAT!"
_After dusting both boxes and putting the top feeder back in place, it was time to take a look at the freshly decorated Boris hive. He looks pretty much up to something ... a visual reminder that you have to be careful, gentle AND smart when you're working bees of any kind. On my next visit, I'll know if I need to order a second Russian queen instead of just one. Any longtime beekeepers out there reading, please let me know your thoughts. In the meantime I'll check the books and hope for the best.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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